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Soft-core filmmaker Zalman King dies at 70 (or maybe 69)

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Note: Some of the material in this article – and certainly many of the links to videos or photographs associated with filmmaker Zalman King – may very well be NSFW. This probably would have amused Zalman King. So, proceed with caution.

Commercial “soft-core” filmmaker and one-time actor Zalman King, called variously an “erotic cinema maestro,” a “brilliant and noble soul,“ and much in between died Feb. 3 at 70 (although some reports had him at age 69, which made some writers quite happy).

King wrote, directed, or produced commercial but overtly erotic films, including as “9½ Weeks,” “Wild Orchid,” and “Delta of Venus,” and TV films and series (all on cable), including “Red Shoe Diaries,” such as “Chromiumblue.com,” and “Body Language.” His work was lauded by websites devoted to “B” movies and cult films, while his mainstream reputation was somewhat less exalted.

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A 2006 book “Soft in the Middle: The Contemporary Softcore Feature in Its Contexts,” said that King was “synonymous with an upscale form of sexploitation that is addressed to women,” and the Chicago Sun-Times described “Red Shoe Diaries” as “a tour through the sweaty terrain of yuppie sexuality” and a “commercial male fantasy.”

Yet tongue-in-cheek film website The AV Club wrote:

The name “Zalman King” came to be regarded as a mark of quality among connoisseurs of a certain breed of steamy, slow-motion cinema, and so it was that he always came back to that which he did best.….King’s work will definitely live on in the late-night hours, lingering like the curls of candle smoke in the sticky, satin-sheeted rooms of the heart.

A full listing of King’s oeuvre can be found on IMDB.

King began his Hollywood career as an actor on TV shows such as “Gunsmoke,” “Daniel Boone,” and “The Munsters,” “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” and “Adam-12,” among others. His characters were usually off-beat, and included roles as a gang member in (Hitchcock), outlaw (Gunsmoke), an apparent drug addict (Adam-12), and a narcoleptic murdering biker, in the 1975 film, "Trip with the Teacher." He played a more wholesome role, that of an idealistic young lawyer, on the ABC series, “The Young Lawyers.” The New York Times called him then the first overtly Jewish leading man in an American television series.

King was working up until his death. He recently completed filming, “Kamikaze Love,” which is described on IMDB thusly: "A wealthy real estate developer takes a young woman from an everyday mundane life and shows her a world of decadence and debauchery that pushes her sexual limits to the brink."

Greek actor Christos Vassilopoulos, star of the film, said in an interview:

Zalman said “I want to create idols. I want to create a hero that every woman will remember forever.” Zalman taught me to perform through my own personality. He picked me up for that role because he believed that I was the role. He showed me tricks on the set that nobody else had showed me till then, as far as how erotic cinema was performed, created, and executed. His way of dealing with actors on the set was like a second skin. Nobody on the set felt embarrassed or uncomfortable, even though we shot A LOT of sexual scenes.”

Zalman will always stay in my heart, as he will also stay in every person’s heart who had ever met him.

I feel blessed that I had the opportunity to work with him before he departed our world. I feel that I had an amazing experience, with an incredible director! He will always be in my heart cause Zalman knew how to get your attention, he knew how to transform the sexual scenes into the most atmospheric scenes your eye could devour. All together wrapped with endless sensuality! Thank you King!

A similar praise-filled encomium for King came from actor Charlie Sheen, whose Facebook page post broke the news of King’s death:

"The world lost a brilliant and noble soul today. My dear friend of 40 years, Zalman King, just lost his battle with cancer. Fought like a recon marine til the bitter end. Say a prayer for his amazing wife Pat and their lovely daughters. Safe travels my friend. C".

King also was working to develop a web community focusing on erotic content with everything from user-submitted amateur video to “state-of-the-art 3-D sequences in the lush visual style for which Zalman is world famous.” The site is live, but it has nothing on it but an opening page.

King was born in Trenton, was married Patricia Knop, his co-writer on numerous films, for 46 and had two daughters.

The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org.

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